Organic strawberries may cost more, but it's a price worth paying, scientists say. The fruit is both tastier and better for your health, research shows. The most detailed study of its kind has found that they contain higher levels of anti-cancer nutrients than fruit sprayed with chemical pesticides.
Naturally-produced strawberries also have a longer shelf life and a richer, more fruity flavour, according to the researchers. Their findings add to a growing body of evidence that organic food is healthier than conventional fruit and vegetables. Dr John Reganold, who led the study at Washington State University in the U.S., said: 'We show that you can have high quality, healthy produce, without resorting to an arsenal of pesticides.'
Researchers analysed the taste, nutrition and quality of three strawberry varieties growing on 13 organic and 13 conventional farms in California, as well as 31 chemical and biological properties of the soil where they were grown.
The organic fruit had ' significantly higher' levels of antioxidants - nutrients that mop up potentially dangerous and cancer-causing 'free radicals' in the body.
They also last longer and have 'more strawberry in the strawberry', Dr Reganold reports in the journal PLoS One, published by the Public Library of Science.
In blind taste tests, volunteers said they found organic strawberries sweeter and more flavoursome. And when they saw the fruit, they judged the strawberries from the organic farms to have a better colour.
The researchers found that the soil on the organic farms was healthier and contained more bacteria and insect life.
Dr Reganold said: 'There is no paper in the literature that comprehensively and quantitatively compares so many indices of both food and soil quality at multiple sampling times on so many commercial-farms.'
He added: 'Our findings have global implications and advance what we know about the sustainability benefits of organic farming systems.'
The Government's Food Standard Agency caused controversy last year when it claimed there was no good evidence that organic food was healthier.
But the Soil Association - which promotes organic farming - accused the FSA of being selective in its findings.
And a major EU-funded study involving 31 universities and research institutes last year found that levels of vitamins and antioxidants were higher in organic crops, while levels of toxic chemicals and metals were lower.
Organic farming is worth around £2billion a year in Britain. Under the rules which govern it, antibiotics and drugs are not routinely used on livestock, while the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers is restricted.